Villains of the MCU, Ranked
The MCU is a cinematic juggernaut that spans not only across an unprecedented amount of motion pictures, but also within television, both network and “over the top.” While it has spawned a titanic amount of memorable characters and moments, most of them have been centered around the heroes, and for good reason. The good guys sell. But that doesn’t mean the villainy should fall by the wayside.
Unfortunately, Kevin Feige and his team of writers and directors have a problem with their antagonists. Mainly, most of them are poorly fleshed out. Exceptions to the rule are there, although most of them are on the serialized portions of television, where even single-serve villains get more of a fleshing-out than they do in two hours of run-time on the silver screen. But they’re all worth ranking, which I will do here.
EDIT: I finished Luke Cage! I also wanted to add another entry or two from prior material I may have glazed over.
EDIT 2: I saw Dr. Strange, and thanks to 24/7 Marvel movies on the Disney Magic, I saw the Battle of New York two more times and have more refined thoughts on the Chitauri.
EDIT 3: Adding in some Agents of SHIELD stuff. Didn’t see Iron Fist yet, although I’m holding my butthole tight because I heard it’s bad. Still, Defenders! Spider-man! Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2! The Punisher! This year is looking to be pretty nice.
EDIT 4: Editing after having seen Iron Fist and finished up Agents of SHIELD season four. Fun!
INCOMPLETE — Thanos: Honestly, if you compare his arc to a blowjob, the narrative has barely started putting tongue to tip yet. He’s got so much anticipation and mystery behind him, but as a villain, nothing is showing yet.
INCOMPLETE — Samuel Sterns: lol
INCOMPLETE — Sen. Ellen Nadeer: Her arc’s done, but I feel like she shouldn’t even rate? She was more a prop than an actual villain.
INCOMPLETE — Mordo: This is where the incompletes start getting… interesting. Dr. Strange acted as a sort of origin story for Mordo, one as intricate as Loki’s in Thor. One can see where his antagonism, though misguided, is forged, and that will make whatever role he has in the future, be it in Dr. Strange 2, future Avengers movies, or even say, Thor: Ragnarok have more impact.
INCOMPLETE — Ulysses Klaue: Don’t worry, we’ll get to him in Black Panther. Can’t wait.
And now, the known quantities!
38. Bakuto — Iron Fist wasn’t terrible, but it was the worst thing the MCEU has put out, even worse than Iron Man 2. Bakuto was a huge reason, because he was such a poorly-fleshed-out, poorly-acted character. I hope he’s deader than dead by the time the second season rolls around.
37. Malekith — The ultimate jobber of the MCU, and the avatar for its weak villains. What the fuck was Malekith’s goal except as deus ex machina to get an Infinity Stone in play? Nothing about him really made sense. Oh, I wanna end all life so I can get back to peace and quiet before the Universe began? Nihilism is so lame.
36. Gideon Malick —He was such a feckless old man that his supervillain name might as well have been “Low T.” I wanted more Hive and less of him trying to resuscitate Hydra in Season 3 of Agents of SHIELD.
35. Nobu —IN a world where even the Russian mobsters and Madame Gao have more than one dimension, Nobu has no real excuse for being as boring as he was. Okay, the criticisms of the Japanese element on Daredevil being ninjas may or may not be valid (I’m in no position to judge, to be honest), but the criticism that Nobu kinda was just there outside of that one killer fight scene in season one is totally valid.
34. Eli Morrow — Honestly, I thought he had a good nublet of an arc, and he’s higher than the other three below him because he allowed Agents of SHIELD to have Ghost Rider on it, and Ghost Rider kinda ruled. Otherwise, forgettable.
33. Ronan the Accuser — Look, if you’re gonna be Space Hitler, you might as well have more than a half-a-dimension, okay?
32. Brock Rumlow/Crossbones — I don’t wanna put Crossbones this low, but he’s the kind of guy who needed more than the bits and pieces he had in the second two Captain America films. He had a badass aura to him, but it was kinda wasted.
31. Madame Gao — I’m kinda over the “mysterious overreaching villain” trope that seems to be infecting so many hero/spy stories lately, but Gao was a far better antagonist to Danny Rand than fuckin’ Bakuto. Her role was to represent the greater Hand anyway, and I feel like she has room for improvement.
30. Yellow Jacket — On one hand, as a sleazy executive type with misogynist tendencies, he SHOULD fit the bill as a prime villain. However, of all the fantastical parts of Ant-Man, he was the least dynamic. If I wanted to deal with a boring white dude with a Napoleonic complex, I’d turn on Fox News, but then again, Hannity isn’t putting on a shrink-suit and having fights around Thomas the Tank Engine. But fight scenes are less about the stock of the villain and more about the DNA of the movie, right?
29. Alexander Pierce — I read this somewhere on Twitter, but it’s true enough to repeat. The problem with Pierce is that he represents sort of a cop-out in Winter Soldier, where Cap and SHIELD get a pass in looking inward and can blame all their problems on Nazis without ever having to look into how they let the Nazis in in the first place.
28. Kaecellius — If I’m being honest, he’s a rich man’s Malekith, which is to say that he’s an improvement, sure. But I mean, he was far from the main event in Dr. Strange by a longshot. Mads Mikkelsen chewing up scenery was great, but a lot of his role was walking menacingly, and, well, that doesn’t do it for me.
27. Helmut Zemo — SPOILER, allowing him to live in Civil War feels like it might be the beginning of fixing the problem of such a cinematic roster of villains. He had the most diabolical plan out of all of them too, but outside of, say, murdering T’Chaka in cold blood, he may have had the most moral justification. He’s like Magneto; he’s right even if his methods are a bit questionable.
26. Jiaying — Her turn as a villain came on a bit too quickly, like a bad M. Night Shyamalan twist, but she had clear motivation. I dunno. She could’ve been worse, but she could’ve been better.
25. Whiplash — Ah yes, the role Mickey Rourke got as a reward for being a good actor in The Wrestler. I may be ranking him way too high here, because his motivations were all muddled, but I’m a sucker for the energy whips ‘n shit.
24. Aldritch Killian — From Iron Man 2 to Iron Man 3, a titanic leap in quality and yet the villain is kinda pedestrian. Like, I love the movie, but Killian was the least impressive part of it. He was just kinda there? ALSO, Syndrome was a way better take on the character.
23. The Chitauri — Well, I got to see the end of The Avengers again, and the Chitauri aren’t really the jobbers I made them out to be. Watching The Battle of New York again, and honestly, the look of dread on the faces of The Avengers when the giant serpentine transport came around the corner sold the threat. Plus, Tony Stark’s PTSD in Iron Man 3 and his flashback of dread in Ultron made me think I undersold them. Of course, the fact that the Hulk pretty much took the army out by himself is another thing, but still.
22. Obadiah Stane — And the circle is complete, and this is the point in the list where the curve trends upward. Like Rourke, Jeff Bridges may have phoned in this role just a little bit, but overall, he still was a worthy adversary for Tony Stark in the kickoff film for the MCU. He was also the villain Yellow Jacket was trying to live up to in Ant-Man, only without the rapey tendencies. Comic book movies, by the way, really shouldn’t have rapey tendencies except for maybe Sin City, but then again, Frank Miller really has some issues he needs to work through, doesn’t he?
21. Willis “Diamondback” Stryker — The first of the surprisingly robust cast of villains from Luke Cage is Diamondback, and boy does he bring the crazy. For sheer lunacy and anarchy, Stryker should probably rate higher, but I thought while his motivations were understandable, a lot of his trappings, his accessories if you will, were a bit too on the nose if you will. I have high hopes that maybe more of his character will get fleshed more fully when he eventually comes back in season 2 (yes, spoiler, he doesn’t die).
20. Abomination — I really wanted Abomination to have more depth, but then again, what’s a more perfect foil for The Hulk than a less conflicted, more animalistic version of himself?
19. Hive — Hive was such a creepy villain, but it felt like he had a lot of unexplored territory and a rushed ending. Still, once the arc of Agents of SHIELD shifted from Malick to Hive, the season picked up.
18. Johann Fenoff — Usually one doesn’t think subtlety when they think of comic book villainy, but the guy that everyone sort of assumed was the analogue to Dr. Faust was a nice diversion from the big angry blow-em-up villains even on TV, even if it did play a bit too much into the ’40s Red Scare hysteria.
17. Shades —Shades was a little too slick at times, but as the devil on the shoulder of both Cottonmouth and Mariah Dillard, he played his part well. Hard to crack and harder to kill, he worked as an ancillary antagonist for Cage and one whose bigger role going forward will be met with great anticipation.
16. Dormammu — The best thing Dr. Strange did, and believe me, that movie did a lot of good things, was build up Dormammu as an existential threat, one that Strange had to trick, not defeat, but trick into submission. Kaecellius maybe was such a weak antagonist because he really was just the vessel for the dark demon, and the best thing is, Dormammu isn’t really going away.
15. John Garrett — Bill Paxton knocked this role so far out of the park that I wanted to redo the entire series of Chuck with him in the role of Lt. John Casey instead of massive, throbbing penis Adam Baldwin. Anyway, if you wanted an avatar for the boots on the ground leadership of Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD, you wanted Garrett in charge. Even his demise was great.
14. Grant Ward — Ward went from one of the worst characters on Agents of SHIELD to perhaps the best (non-Melinda May division, fuck you, the Cavalry is Queen). He wasn’t an over-the-top smarmy heel like number two on the list, but he exuded that sort of male-dominated creepiness all while tackling a ruthlessness that not a whole lot of other characters could assume. I would’ve been fine had he become a recurring megavillain on TV, but even with the way his arc ended, he was a great part of the MCU lore. Props to the show for bringing him back as a double agent GOOD GUY in the elseworlds current arc.
13. Whitney Frost — A lot of great villains are mirror images of their heroic counterparts with less moral tactics. Both Frost and Peggy Carter battled the rampant sexism of the ’40s, but one used cunning and brains and guile to convince her peers she wasn’t to be trifled with, and the other wanted to harness the power of some shit that could blink her enemies out of existence and make her a shit ton of money. Goals, I suppose.
12. Ultron — Look, I was as disappointed with Age of Ultron as most, but if one character in the film fit the hacky, overly jokey Joss Whedon dialogue, it was the sassy robot bent on world domination.
11. Harold Meachum — The best part of a mediocre Marvel property is the villain. Seems to be a recurring theme, doesn’t it? Meachum’s desperate villainy is couched inside sympathetic reasons. He wants his company, his family, his legacy to remain intact. However, the slow burn of him going from undead shadow figure to total sociopathic wraith was worth slogging through the rich White boy melodrama that was so tonally dissonant from the rest of the Defenders/Netflix shared universe to date. David Wenham’s acting gave Harold the coke-fueled megalomania that defined him and made him enjoyable from reveal to death.
10. Red Skull — If you’re going to do Nazism in a superhero movie, you might as well make it so fantastical that the only response should be good, old-fashioned violent response. If Magneto and Zemo and other moral villains were at their hearts right, Skull was the complete and exact opposite. He was so evil, he didn’t even want to associate with motherfucking Hitler anymore. But in order to play that kind of character, you have to do it with some kind of style without seeming hacky or overly cloying. Skull fit that to a tee.
9. Justin Hammer — Again, Iron Man 2 sucked balls, but the rival weapons dealer to Stark was one of the lone shining spots in the movie. Hammer was such a delightful prick, and one who deserves another movie role, even if it’s just like playing a background character to Doctor Doom in Avengers 5, assuming that Fox will surrender the rights to the Fantastic Four back to Marvel Studios any day now.
8.Councilwoman Mariah Dillard — Everyone knows a Mariah Dillard in their lives. It’s a matter of whether they wield the power of the woman known as Black Mariah in the comics. Even before she fully embraced her inner gangster, Dillard’s phoniness and willing neglect of cousin Cornell’s racketeering made her an adversary for the forces of good in Harlem. But her transformation, no matter how much she lied to herself at points during the season, into her grandmother by the end was well-played.
7. AIDA — Before, when she was just sentient AI looking for a place in the world, she was scary and formidable. But when the focus shifted to stalker levels, hoo-boy, she became Agents of SHIELD’s greatest accomplishment to date. Not only was her threat level appropriate and fantastical, her arc was a great morality play. Be careful for what you wish for, because you just might get it, but not all of it.
6. The Winter Soldier —Aside from having a cool drifter motif and heavy artillery, the once and future Bucky Barnes was in many ways the ultimate villain for Cap. He was a source of introspection for Cap and more than any other villain in the movies except for number one, he had his own motivations and plot points that made him just as integral a part to his titular movie as the actual hero.
5. Dottie Underwood — I’m still mad Agent Carter got shitcanned, but at least it gave the world the ultimate Stepford Wife assassin. I may be overrating her based on aesthetic and situation, but Dottie is both the ultimate badass and the greatest fear, that your next door neighbor not only could be a Soviet spy, but she could also kill you walking down the hallway with nothing more than her ankles. Plus, her interplay with Peggy was just so witty and fulfilling. God. Bring back Agent Carter.
4. Wilson Fisk — Vincent D’Onofrio’s exaggerated diction became a meme, but it didn’t underscore the kind of complex yet ruthless villain Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk would become over two seasons of Daredevil. Even before he saw himself as the villain, he showed a violence in him, a temper that portended so much more than his innocent-seeming intentions with maybe just a little bit of underhandedness thrown in. At one point during season one, I almost got the feeling that Daredevil, Foggy, and Karen may have been haranguing an innocent man, even if he had caved in a Russian’s head with a car door. But man, the payoff, his “I am the ill-intent” speech in the season one finale was bone-chilling.
3. Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes — The living embodiment of the Big Swinging Dick, Cottonmouth may not have lasted the full season but still gave a full season’s impact. He’s the living personification of hubris in how he deals with everyone in his, but for the most part, it bears out in his favor until he crosses the one person most like him. It was an intersection of sorts. Cornell didn’t want to be the kingpin at first, but he kept on going and going until he owned the role. Mariah successfully resisted it until Cornell made the cardinal sin of blaming her for her own, ahem, abuses. But his presence was so much of what you wanted from a villain, right down to the portrait of Notorious BIG hanging on his wall, crown on head.
2. Kilgrave — The most chilling portrayal on Netflix came in the second series, AKA Jessica Jones, with Kilgrave. What makes the erstwhile Purple Man so scary is that he exists in real life, albeit without the blatant superpowers of mind-control. But I almost feel like the episode where he and Jessica pal around and she makes him save the family its gun-bearing, frustrated father/husband was meant to make the male viewers almost feel sympathetic to him before jerking them back to earth on who he really was, a rapist, a con-artist, a murderer. But that’s how the MRA crowd operates in real life, which is why Kilgrave is not only uncomfortable and skeezy, but also realistic.
1. Loki — Did you have any doubt he’d be number one? To make a wrestling comparison, Loki may be the nWo or the Kevin Owens to Kilgrave’s Tully Blanchard or The Miz, a cool bad guy who masks his rottenness because the guy playing him, Tom Hiddleston, is so damn charismatic. But what may get hidden from that charisma is that Loki has complex thoughts and feelings and desires, and that he, like Bucky, Grant Ward, and the other television villains, has a lot of investment, good investment, that gets played off well within each story. You get why he sends Thor off to be trapped in Jotunheim. You know why he allows himself to be played by Thanos. And you feel sorry for him just a little bit until you realize that hey, he tried to kill everyone on Earth via alien attack. It’s why his “death” in Thor: Dark World was so effective, a far more effective part of the movie than anything Malekith did. Seriously, what the fuck is the purpose of a Dark fuckin’ Elf?
So that’s the rankings, which I bet most people will find controversial, disagreeable, or just plain wrong. But given that about half the list are duds shows that the MCU has a problem but that again, half the list are also pretty good shows that maybe it’s not as bad as some might think? I dunno. I just like ranking shit, I guess.